A city-led initiative could bring childcare to Boulder and its surrounding communities in Jefferson County by the start of school in late August. 

Citing a detrimental effect the region’s lack of childcare has on economic development, including workforce participation and population growth, and on childhood development, city leaders are working to secure funding to purchase and relocate a building from north of Helena to a parcel in Boulder to serve as a childcare facility. The purchase and relocation of the building, currently situated at Jim Darcy Elementary School on Lincoln Road, is estimated to cost about $110,000, according to Mayor Rusty Giulio. 

Leaders also hope to secure funding for a childcare coordinator—possibly a joint city-county position—to oversee long-term operation of the facility, likely via a private childcare operation. 

“The whole emphasis of this is to recognize that the absence of childcare is a problem in Boulder and Jefferson County, and to heighten the awareness of the problem and to do something about it in a very accelerated fashion,” City Council President Drew Dawson said at a Boulder Transition Advisory Committee meeting on June 3. “It’s a major obstacle to parents, it’s a major obstacle to economic development, it’s a major obstacle to quality of life.” 

Access to childcare in Boulder could not only help residents join or return to the workforce, along with potentially attracting new families to the area, but would improve the lives of the children who participate, Dawson said in an interview on Monday. 

“Having a comprehensive childcare program is important. It’s important from the economic standpoint, it’s important for the families, but I think it’s really important for the child,” he said. “We know that children who receive early education and childcare just do better, and I think that’s a really important thing that we don’t want to forget from this picture—it’s really all about the children. There’s a fair amount of data that is there to support that, and I think, as a community, that makes providing comprehensive childcare an even more important initiative.” 

Dawson said that the region’s lack of childcare, along with housing, is a reoccurring topic at meetings. A recent informal survey by the Boulder Childcare Working Group—a spinoff of the BTAC that Dawson chairs—found that slightly more than two-thirds of respondents had a need for childcare services. 

“In almost any meeting, the absence of affordable—or any—childcare has come up,” he said. “It’s reached a high point recently ... it’s an impediment to economic development.”

Giulio said at the June 3 meeting that Valley Sand & Gravel in Helena currently owns the building, which served as a temporary classroom during the construction of Jim Darcy Elementary. 

“It’s a heck of a building,” he said, noting that the approximately 30-by-70-foot, wood-framed structure was complete with Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible bathrooms and could serve about 50 children. “It’s really nice. I think we can move it here, set it up turnkey for about $110,000.” 

In an interview on Monday, Giulio said he personally paid a $5,000 deposit to hold the building until Aug. 6, at which point full payment of $40,000 is due. Moving the building will cost about $35,000, he estimated, and a foundation will cost about $30,000. Excavation and backfill would be donated by local contractors, he said. 

Giulio said he originally considered purchasing the building about eight months ago and planned to move it to Boulder to serve as affording housing—split into four small units—but he realized childcare was a more pressing need. 

“I’m going to get [the building] one way or another, and hopefully it gets used for the daycare,” he said. “It’s in very good shape and you just don’t find them like that, especially one that meets all the daycare requirements.”

But to successfully open a childcare facility by fall, Dawson said, the city must secure funding not just to purchase, relocate and install the building, but also to help establish a childcare operation therein. 

“We still need to come up with that $110,000—that’s certainly an important piece of the puzzle. Getting a building here and operational and doing it by this fall would be a tremendous catalyst to having an active childcare program in the Boulder area, and that’s been a huge impediment, so kudos to Rusty for taking the initiative to do that,” he said. “But we still have a long ways to go in the community to come up with the funding to do that. It’s great that we have a goal to shoot for and potentially have a building, and can hopefully work with folks to make the space to have somewhere to put it.” 

Dawson said there’s a possibility that funding could come from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, $325,940 of which are a general fund for which childcare services are an “eligible expenditure.” The city may also approach the Jefferson County Commission to propose a yet-undetermined partnership. So far, he said, no formal discussions have taken place between the city and county, but providing childcare in Boulder will likely “be a collaboration of some sort” between the two entities. 

“As we get into the allocation of ARPA dollars then I think it’s likely that we may need to have formal discussions about it,” he said. “And to be honest, all of this is happening pretty fast. There’s a lot of things going on and a lot of moving parts.”

The city is also working with the Headwaters Foundation, a Missoula-based philanthropic nonprofit, and the Headwaters Resource Conservation and Development Area, a Butte-based economic- and social-development nonprofit, to apply for grants and secure funding, Dawson said. The eventual goal is to incorporate the Boulder Childcare Working Group as a nonprofit that can secure childcare funding on its own, “so that we would have a focal point for childcare activities in the Boulder-Basin area and, hopefully, the rest of the county down the road.” 

Part of that long-term vision is the hiring of a childcare coordinator to oversee the funding and operations of the proposed childcare operation. Dawson said that position would likely serve more than just Boulder regardless of whether it was a joint city-county office. 

“Whether it’s a formal partnership or not, I think we’ll at least have a discussion with [the county] about childcare in Boulder and Jefferson County,” he said, “and if the childcare coordinator is hired, then having a more comprehensive plan for the Boulder-Jefferson County area is high on the priority list for that individual, and that will certainly cause us to take a good look at [a partnership] from a formal standpoint.”

Partnership or not, Dawson said the working group and city share a vision of childcare not just for the city of Boulder, but for the entire community. 

“We really want it to be not just a city project, but a community project, and we want the nonprofit to grow and for it to be considered a community-wide effort.”

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